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TAI Diagnostics Hires CEO, Nabs $8.3M to Push Post-Transplant Test

Xconomy Wisconsin — 

Five months removed from raising $6 million from investors, TAI Diagnostics has upped the ante.

Last week the Milwaukee-area startup, which is seeking to commercialize a non-invasive test to monitor the health of heart transplant recipients, said the value of its Series A round has climbed to $8.3 million. The company also said it hired a CEO: Frank Langley, who spoke with Xconomy Wednesday about the latest financing and TAI’s road ahead.

In a press release announcing the round, TAI said Madison, WI-based Venture Investors participated, along with “other private investors.” Langley declined to name other funds or investors who took part.

Langley says TAI—which stands for “Transplant and Immunology” and is pronounced “tie”—will use the Series A money to continue developing its test. The assay measures levels of cell-free DNA, genetic material discharged by the patient’s new heart that enters the bloodstream, to determine whether the person is in danger of rejecting the organ.

A simple blood draw is all that’s required for the test, which would be a big improvement over current practice. For a heart transplant recipient, an invasive biopsy procedure involves inserting a wire in the neck, running it down the body through a vein, and collecting tiny pieces of the heart.

The company could bring the test to market in one to two years, Langley says, and it may prove flexible enough to use on patients who have received other types of organs, such as kidneys and lungs.

Langley says that while biopsies remain the “gold standard” for monitoring organ acceptance, they have numerous drawbacks. “It’s expensive for patients and their insurers, there’s a risk of infection, and biopsies can be a late indicator of the beginning of an organ failure,” he says.

TAI will also use the new financing to add staff. Langley declined to share the current headcount, saying only that the startup plans to hire “scientists and lab technologists.”

The funding will also support construction of a laboratory where TAI will analyze blood samples and prepare reports to send back to physicians who order the test.

The lab will be located close to TAI’s offices on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Innovation Campus in Wauwatosa, WI. The campus is near a healthcare cluster that includes Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Froedtert Hospital, and the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW). Aoy Tomita-Mitchell and Michael Mitchell, a married couple who launched TAI earlier this year, are both faculty members at MCW. (She is an associate professor and research scientist at the college; he’s an associate professor there, as well as a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.)

One of their previous ventures was Ariosa Diagnostics, which developed a blood-based prenatal screening test for expectant mothers. A woman who has the test performed on her can learn the baby’s gender and determine if she’s at risk for fetal chromosome abnormalities, which could result in her child having a genetic disorder like Down syndrome.

Like the heart test TAI is developing, Ariosa’s test marked a switch from invasive to non-invasive. Previously, the most popular way of identifying chromosomal irregularities in a fetus was through amniocentesis, a procedure in which a needle is inserted into the uterus to sample amniotic fluid.

The Mitchells began the research that led to Ariosa while working at the University of Louisville. In 2006, they moved to the Milwaukee area, where they’ve lived ever since. However, they believed investments would be easier to come by in California than in  … Next Page »

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